United States District Court, E.D. Missouri, Eastern Division
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
C. COLLINS UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
an action under Title 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) for judicial
review of the final decision of the Commissioner denying the
application of Lloyd Bruckerhoff (“Plaintiff”), a
now-55 year-old resident of Missouri, for Disability
Insurance Benefits (“DIB”) under Title II of the
Social Security Act (“the Act”), 42 U.S.C.
§§ 401 et seq. Plaintiff has filed a brief
in support of the Complaint (Doc. No. 19) and Defendant has
filed a brief in support of the Answer (Doc. No. 29). The
parties have consented to the jurisdiction of the undersigned
United States Magistrate Judge pursuant to Title 28 U.S.C.
§ 636(c) (Doc. No. 14).
filed his application for DIB, which was initially denied on
September 16, 2013. (Tr. 100-104; 88-96). The initial denial
was accompanied by a Disability Determination Explanation
signed by single decision maker (“SDM”) Kimberl
Underwood (Tr. 88-96). Plaintiff then filed a written Request
for Hearing before an Administrative Law Judge
(“ALJ”) on September 30, 2013 (Tr. 105). A
hearing was then held on September 19, 2014 in front of ALJ
Carol L. Boorady. (Tr. 24-87). On September 25, 2014, the ALJ
issued a written decision in which she found Plaintiff not
disabled. (Tr. 9-19). Plaintiff requested a review of the
decision by the Appeals Council on October 6, 2014. (Tr. 5).
The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review
(Tr. 1-4). As such, the ALJ's decision stands as the
final decision of the Commissioner.
DECISION OF THE ALJ
determined that Plaintiff meets the insured status
requirements of the Social Security Act through December 31,
2017, and had not engaged in substantial gainful activity
since March 29, 2013. (Tr. 11). The ALJ found Plaintiff has
the severe impairments of “degenerative disc disease of
the lumbar spine, osteoarthritis of the knees (worse on the
right side), obesity and diabetes mellitus” but that no
impairment or combination of impairments met or medically
equaled the severity of one of the listed impairments in 20
C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 (Tr. 11-13).
considering the entire record, the ALJ determined Plaintiff
has the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to
perform light work as defined in 20 C.F.R. §
404.1567(b). (Tr. 13). Specifically, she found that Plaintiff
retained the capacity to occasionally lift up to 20 pounds,
frequently lift up to ten pounds, walk or stand for six hours
of an eight-hour workday, and sit for six hours in an
eight-hour workday. Id. The ALJ further determined
that Plaintiff could perform work that required minimal
(“defined as less than occasional”) or no
stooping, kneeling, crouching, crawling or climbing on ramps
or stairs. Id. Finally, the ALJ stated that
Plaintiff should avoid exposure to vibration, unprotected
heights and dangerous moving machinery. Id.
hearing, the ALJ used this RFC and variations upon it to pose
hypothetical questions to Carly Cochran, a vocational expert,
regarding the availability of jobs for someone similarly
limited. (Tr. 58-83). Specifically, the ALJ asked Ms. Cochran
whether there were jobs which Plaintiff could perform, given
his age, education, and work experience, combined with the
RFC described above and variations such as only standing four
hours a workday or no stooping or kneeling. Ms. Cochran
answered that there were such jobs, and based on the RFC as
formulated, Plaintiff was able to perform jobs such as
cashier. (Tr. 60). She further testified as to how many jobs
in those categories existed at that time, both nationally and
in Missouri. Id.
decision, the ALJ found Plaintiff unable to perform any past
relevant work as a carpenter. (Tr. 17). However, the ALJ did
find that there are jobs that exist in significant numbers in
the national economy that he can perform, including the
above-mentioned “cashier”, which Ms. Cochran
testified were available at a rate of 30, 000 jobs in the
State of Missouri and 1.3 million jobs nationally. (Tr. 18,
60). Thus, the ALJ concluded that a finding of “not
disabled” was appropriate. (Tr. 18-19).
has come to this Court to appeal this ruling, arguing that
the ALJ “failed to properly evaluate opinion
evidence” (primarily in discounting the medical source
statement of treating physician Jeremy Talley, DO). (Doc No.
19 at 3). He also alleges that the ALJ “failed to
properly consider credibility” of Plaintiff's
allegations regarding his subjective limitations.
(Id. at 13). For the following reasons, the Court
finds that the ALJ's determination was supported by
substantial evidence. Plaintiff was not fully credible as to
his subjective pain complaints, as evidenced by the general
lack of corroboration by objective diagnostic testing,
Plaintiff's own testimony of his activities, including
his delay or unwillingness in seeking anything more than the
most basic medical treatment, and his efforts to seek
employment after the alleged date of onset. The Court further
finds that the ALJ's discounting of the weight of Dr.
Talley's opinion was supported by substantial evidence,
as Dr. Talley's opinion was based largely upon
Plaintiff's subjective reports which the ALJ found not
the Social Security Act, the Commissioner has established a
five-step process for determining whether a person is
disabled. 20 C.F.R. §§ 416.920, 404.1529.
“‘If a claimant fails to meet the criteria at any
step in the evaluation of disability, the process ends and
the claimant is determined to be not disabled.'”
Goff v. Barnhart, 421 F.3d 785, 790 (8th Cir. 2005)
(quoting Eichelberger v. Barnhart, 390 F.3d 584,
590-91 (8th Cir. 2004)). In this sequential analysis, the
claimant first cannot be engaged in “substantial
gainful activity” to qualify for disability benefits.
20 C.F.R. §§ 416.920(b), 404.1520(b). Second, the
claimant must have a severe impairment. 20 C.F.R.
§§ 416.920(c), 404.1520(c). The Social Security Act
defines “severe impairment” as “any
impairment or combination of impairments which significantly
limits [claimant's] physical or mental ability to do
basic work activities. . . .” Id.
“‘The sequential evaluation process may be
terminated at step two only when the claimant's
impairment or combination of impairments would have no more
than a minimal impact on [his or] her ability to
work.'” Page v. Astrue, 484 F.3d 1040,
1043 (8th Cir. 2007) (quoting Caviness v. Massanari,
250 F.3d 603, 605 (8th Cir. 2001), citing Nguyen v.
Chater, 75 F.3d 429, 430-31 (8th Cir. 1996)).
the ALJ must determine whether the claimant has an impairment
which meets or equals one of the impairments listed in the
Regulations. 20 C.F.R. §§ 416.920(d), 404.1520(d).
If the claimant has one of, or the medical equivalent of,
these impairments, then the claimant is per se disabled
without consideration of the claimant's age, education,
or work history. Id.
the impairment must prevent the claimant from doing past
relevant work. 20 C.F.R. §§ 416.920(f),
404.1520(f). The burden rests with the claimant at this
fourth step to establish his or her RFC. Steed v.
Astrue, 524 F.3d 872, 874 n.3 (8th Cir. 2008)
(“Through step four of this analysis, the claimant has
the burden of showing that she is disabled.”). The ALJ
will review a claimant's RFC and the physical and mental
demands of the work the claimant has done in the past. 20
C.F.R. § 404.1520(f).
the severe impairment must prevent the claimant from doing
any other work. 20 C.F.R. §§ 416.920(g),
404.1520(g). At this fifth step of the sequential analysis,
the Commissioner has the burden of production to show
evidence of other jobs in the national economy that can be
performed by a person with the claimant's RFC.
Steed, 524 F.3d at 874 n.3. If the claimant meets
these standards, the ALJ will find the claimant to be
disabled. “The ultimate burden of persuasion to prove
disability, however, remains with the claimant.”
Young v. Apfel, 221 F.3d 1065, 1069 n.5 (8th Cir.
2000). See also Harris v. Barnhart, 356 F.3d 926,
931 n.2 (8th Cir. 2004) (citing 68 Fed. Reg. 51153, 51155
(Aug. 26, 2003)); Stormo v. Barnhart, 377 F.3d 801,
806 (8th Cir. 2004) (“The burden of persuasion to prove
disability and to demonstrate RFC remains on the claimant,
even when the burden of production shifts to the Commissioner
at step five.”). Even if a court finds that there is a
preponderance of the evidence against the ALJ's decision,
the decision must be affirmed if it is supported by
substantial evidence. Clark v. Heckler, 733 F.2d 65,
68 (8th Cir. 1984). “Substantial evidence is less than
a preponderance but is enough that a reasonable mind would
find it adequate to support the Commissioner's
conclusion.” Krogmeier v. Barnhart, 294 F.3d
1019, 1022 (8th Cir. 2002). See also Cox v. Astrue,
495 F.3d 614, 617 (8th Cir. 2007).
not the job of the district court to re-weigh the evidence or
review the factual record de novo. Cox, 495
F.3d at 617. Weighing the evidence is a function of the ALJ,
who is the fact-finder. Masterson v. Barnhart, 363
F.3d 731, 736 (8th Cir. 2004). Thus, an administrative
decision which is supported by substantial evidence is not
subject to reversal merely because substantial evidence may
also support an opposite conclusion or because the reviewing
court would have decided differently. Krogmeier, 294
F.3d at 1022.
determine whether the Commissioner's final decision is
supported by substantial evidence, the court is required to
review the administrative record as a whole and to consider:
(1) Findings of credibility made by the ALJ;
(2) The education, background, work history, and age of the